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Fuchsia: Google's new OS is the present and future in one

Google is working on a new operating system called Fuchsia. A developer has now brought the system to life and inserted it into an Android app. There's already a lot you can see, but not a great deal you can actually do with it - yet. The app nevertheless provides an early glimpse into the future of Android and the mythical Andromeda operating system. And this may arrive sooner than you think. 

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Fuchsia OS: Google's secret weapon against Android?

Google has been publicly developing yet another operating system - code name Fuchsia. This utilizes the microkernel Magenta to control the most basic hardware functions. There are several more layers to the system, including the Armadillo interface and the Flutter app. The source code can already be compiled and run as an Android app. Armadillo shows how the system could look in the future.

A few things are notable here. The system uses only a single home button. 'Back' and 'Recent' are missing and instead of these, Armadillo displays the time and battery life. The home screen on the other hand comprises a long list of stories. This is likely where interactive widgets will display information and act as portals to their respective apps. 

AndroidPIT fuchsia Fuchsia is taking shape.  / © AndroidPIT

A home screen and a sort of Google Now viewer have also emerged. Currently, the only working feature is the multi-window function. With it, you can slide multiple stories on top of one another. 

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Fuchsia / © Ars Technica

What makes Fuchsia so exciting?

According to a comment in its source code, the Fuchsia kernel Magenta was designed for phones and computers. But surely Google already has Android and Chrome OS for this? Both operating systems are essentially based on Linux and this bears many downsides. The critical weakness for Linux lies in the fact that the system is assembled from many different components. These may work reliably together, but aren't necessarily fast. This is problematic for open source projects, creating holes in security. Thus we have an immense effort to keep the source code current, especially considering the many changes to Linux which made Android what it is right now. On Google smartphones, the underlying Linux kernel version dates from December 2014. 

But there are issues with the Linux system architecture in many places. We can see with Android for example, that real-time audio apps are difficult to run because the latency in the operating system is too high. Drivers are another complicated topic and form part of Android's huge difficulties with updates. Google is working on these issues, but this will barely get to the root of the problem in Android.

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Here, Fuchsia could offer a system delivering consistently high performance, the kind that is impossible to implement in the current Android system architecture. Google has since gathered enough experience with smartphones and PC operating systems and can control every component of Fuchsia, from its kernel to UI and license.

Fuchsia is still a long way off

The development of a new operating system requires years. It's not a project that can be finished within twelve months. Android, for example, was under development for around five years before its first products emerged. This is similar to the Windows kernel that is still used today, which is built on technology dating from the end of the 1980's. Even here, there was at least a five or six year gap between the start of development and the first bumpy launch into the market. 

So when can we expect Fuchsia OS, assuming that Google maintains the project? The development of the Magenta kernel is supposed to have started in February 2016. It would be almost impossible to make the entire system market-ready in under four years, so we shouldn't expect a full Fuchsia version before 2020. But the Android platform may drift toward Fuchsia even sooner.

Flutter: the present form of Fuchsia OS

Fuchsia OS will use the library, Flutter, for its apps. Even today, this allows the development of apps for Android and iOS. Material design is provided for the visuals. Another design target with Flutter is to facilitate high performance apps, which will ideally run at 120 frames per second. And indeed, Flutter is already available. While the software isn't yet stable, it's still usable and a few apps are already in development. 

fuchsia flutter android ios
Flutter: developing apps for Android and iOS. / © Google / Screenshot: ANDROIDPIT

If Flutter becomes the most important development platform for Fuchsia OS, one aspect will fade into the background. How will Google present its decision to switch from Android to Fuchsia? At the end of the day, this needs to make commercial sense. Although Google has its fun '20%' projects, Fuchsia doesn't belong to these. The developments around Fuchsia are therefore likely to mean that Google is at least researching new ways in the field of (mobile) operating systems. If the project is successful, it may herald a change from Android to Fuchsia. But this should happen quietly. Other manufacturers may be less happy about this and could explore alternatives.

It's entirely possible that Google will first work on making Flutter more palatable. The inner system of Fuchsia may gradually flow into Android, and Magenta could one day completely replace the Linux kernel. There's no doubt that Google could also import Android Runtime (ART) into the new system. A new operating system could materialize without much effort, one that works independently of Linux and has been completely developed by Google. This adjustment wouldn't be especially difficult. After all, a Magenta-based operating system could display the Android API while avoiding the current problems with Linux. 

And what about the wild user interface on Armadillo? Even this belongs in the picture. A while ago, Androidpolice author David Ruddock said that Google was working on some crazy UI ideas. Of these, only the swipe gesture for the app drawer has yet surfaced. But the now visible Armadillo UI definitely falls into the crazy category. In the top screenshot, you can see the interface of a Flutter app. The Armadillo experiment would definitely fit this aesthetic mold.

Is Fuchsia OS Andromeda?

Little is being said about Andromeda. The union of Android and Chrome OS was rumored to have happened in Fall 2015, but we don't know any more about this. Instead, Google announced they were working to make Android apps function on Chrome OS. Ultimately, Fuchsia could be a component of the Andromeda project and Magenta will form the centerpiece - a modern kernel in which Google packs its combined experience from Android and Chrome OS over the past few years.

What do you think of Fuchsia? Will Google redeem all of its mistakes from Android with one big swipe?

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  • I would like it as a launcher not an os

  • This spells only bad things to come for the more technical users. It's going to be Google locking things down for consumer peace of mind. It's going to be the end for custom ROMs due to a lack of documentation on the kernel. It's going to enforce Material Design everywhere and become the next iOS.

    If Android ends as a mobile OS... well, the community may have to make their own OS. And we know how that fared with Cyanogen.

  • storm 3 months ago Link to comment

    Sounds like another closed walled garden OS. FOSS only for me thank you.

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